Thursday, April 2, 2015

Communities of Practice for Young Professional People in Joburg

In Johannesburg, we are setting up our 2nd Community of Practice for Young Professionals - due to public demand! We have been running one group every few weeks since last August last year, and the interest has now led us to formalise this exciting way of working with young professional people, and our 2nd group will kick off in May.

The Community of Practice is tightly facilitated, and enables young professionals to explore their questions in a safe and non-threatening environment, and for the participants to share their own experiences and ideas about what works for them. Usually we work with 5 or 6 people for 2 hours at a time, and use the opportunity also to build good listening and questioning skills. After a while we move into deeper skills development, exploring the art of facilitation, issues of transference etc.

What is a 'community of practice'?  This description comes from Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger.  Wenger writes: "Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly".

Contact me for more information!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The changing world of work

Here is a link to a very interesting article on the changing nature of work.  I am intrigued by what this means in terms of our understanding of what organisations are, how they will be structured and designed, and what people will be doing with their time in the next 30 years.

The article reminds me of my earlier posting from last year (No people - just screens, terminals and handsets...)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

South Africa's elections 2014 - what next?

Picture: Gisele Wulfsohn, Alexandra, 27th April 1994

Basically the ANC has won the election, albeit with a slightly reduced overall percentage vote.  It is still unassailable as the majority party and will remain so until there is a fundamental realignment and reorganization of the opposition parties.  While the DA states that it is working for such a realignment, the option has been on the table since 2009 and the DA has failed spectacularly to achieve this so far – the very recent failed merger with Agang being the obvious illustration.

At a time when the ANC has potentially been vulnerable (Marikana, Nkandla, EFF etc) the opposition has totally failed to provide any kind of alternative vision for the country that can capture the imagination of the population has a whole.  Ultimately this is a failure of leadership – the country has been failed by leaders of all parties.

The achievement of the (Economic Freedom Fighters) EFF in getting 6%+ of the national vote is also a reflection of leadership failures in the ANC and the DA.  Julius Malema is a dangerous populist.  While some EFF leaders have spouted left-wing rhetoric to appeal to the masses the party is by no means a socialist one.  Their ‘economic policies’ are designed to win broad support, with big increases in social grants etc and no articulation of how they will be funded or how the economy can be stimulated to grow so as to meet the needs of a growing population.  And Malema’s flirtations with reintroducing the death penalty and destroying the e-Toll gantries betray his populist nature.  It will be interesting to see, now that he has some kind of mandate, if he is the first to take the pneumatic drill to the toll roads…

More importantly, we must be aware of the dangers of populism, opportunism and nationalism – ultimately political concepts that do no favours for poor, marginalized people anywhere in the world.

The final results show yet again (see my earlier post after the previous national elections in 2009) that a coherent unified opposition could potentially challenge for around 30% of available votes (leaving aside the millions who are either not registered or do not vote):

DA (22.23%) + IFP (2.4%) + NFP (1.57%) + UDM (1.0%) + VF Plus (0.9%) + COPE (0.67%) + Agang (0.28%) = 29+%

I am assuming that this picture would not include the EFF, ACDP or any of the former liberation parties (PAC or Azapo).

This would require a calculated strategy to unify a range of smaller parties (and egos!) under a single banner, and the DA-Agang debacle shows that this may not be easy, but would make coherent political sense.  The work to do this should start now.  If it can be done, there is a possibility of creating an opposition that from a base of around 30% support could potentially challenge the ANC in a real sense in the next national elections.

Of course this would require some radical shifts in thinking within the DA, which would have to really shake off its image as a white middle-class party, adopt some radical new policies and promote real transformation within its leadership.  It would need particularly to develop economic and social policies (and an associated rhetoric) that have broad appeal to ‘the ordinary South African’ (if this is still possible with the DA’s underlying neo-liberal agenda).

This kind of transformation, coupled with the populist critique from the EFF (now in Parliament), could also force some new thinking within the ANC about what kind of leadership it needs if it is to remain relevant in South Africa in the next 5-10 years.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Oscar Pistorius and the path to redemption

Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend. Whether by accident or thinking it was someone else, or deliberately intending to kill her, we do not know. The judge will decide in due course. Only he knows exactly what happened – the whole truth. This truth has not emerged in the trial, and did not appear to emerge during his testimony either. During his testimony, Oscar gave various explanations for how things were that night as he was able or willing to put on the court record, and where other evidence seemed at contradiction or variance with his story he suggested that evidence had been fabricated, or that (many) other people had lied, or that he did not understand how things could be (eg. how the gun in the restaurant had fired itself). 

Our fascination with the trial is partly because many of us suspect strongly that he may actually have intended to shoot Reeva Steenkamp, suspect that he is not telling the full truth at the moment, and are intrigued as to how his defence will unfold when there are so many unanswered questions and contradictions in his version. He will be found guilty of some offence, as he has admitted shooting Reeva, even if acquitted of murder. He may be convicted on other charges as well. All will emerge in due course. 

It seems therefore that, barring some very strange new developments, Oscar Pistorius will be sent to prison - and possibly for some time. He is still a young man, and may have some kind of further life as a free man in his middle age. Innocent or guilty of murder, he has an opportunity to redeem himself in the public eye and lay the basis of some degree of public acceptance for the future. I suggest that this is only possible if he uses the opportunity of his trial to tell the truth about what happened, and in a convincing way. 

Can he redeem himself? This is Oscar’s big question. Can he find it in himself to go into what will seem to him to be a very dark place, and stand up in court to tell the whole truth. It will involve more tears and retching – no doubt. But if he were to stand up, acknowledge the truth and start to tell the whole story of himself (and his fascination with guns, difficulties with relationships etc), his relationship with Reeva, (and what went wrong), and what exactly happened that night, then I for one would be willing to give him the benefit of some doubt and accept that for the first time he was trying to take responsibility. It might lead to his conviction on the murder charge, but he is going down anyway. And he will lay the basis for his eventual redemption in the world, and the opportunity for him to move forward as a human being, on the basis that the truth can set us free.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Building Peace

The Institute for Economics and Peace last year published a report (Pillars of Peace Report), which is based on empirical research and identifies 8 key factors that underpin peaceful societies.  It speaks for itself.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The DA, fighting apartheid, and reinventing history

I have to admit to some astonishment at the ‘Know Your DA’ campaign, which suggests that the Democratic Alliance (DA) was somehow involved in the struggle against apartheid.

Maybe it is worth repeating that apartheid was declared by the United Nations to be a crime against humanity.  It was not just a mildly aberrant policy that could be changed as a result of white parliamentary opposition.

As such apartheid needed to be fought against.  And not just ‘fought’ by way of a few newspaper articles and some opposing voices raised in the illegitimate parliament of the time, but fought by way of an armed struggle and international isolation and sanctions.

It should not be necessary to repeat what this struggle involved and the huge sacrifices made by people across South Africa.  Many thousands of people were forced into exile and many were away from their homes and families for decades, while some never came home.  Hundreds of others were imprisoned, again many for decades, tortured and killed in the apartheid goal.  Many were detained without trial and held in solitary confinement for long periods.

The ultimate price was paid by people of all races and backgrounds – Bram Fischer, Jeannette Schoon and her daughter Katryn, Ruth First, Solomon Mahlangu, Steve Biko, Neil Aggett, Andrew Zondo, Chris Hani, Phila Ndwandwe, David Webster, Hector Peterson, and many others, including of course people protesting against the pass laws at Sharpeville in 1960, and school children shot by police in 1976.

Many thousands more were forcibly removed from their homes and dumped in so-called homelands – something I covered in an earlier blogpost dealing with De Klerk’s amnesia.

Many organisations struggling against apartheid were banned, as were many individuals.  Generally, people who did not fit under the apartheid classification of ‘white’ were required to carry passes and suffer countless other indignities and bureaucratic abuses simply on the basis of their skin colour.

Now the DA of course was not in existence during the apartheid years.  But it’s ‘predecessor’ organisations were.  Especially the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), with leaders such as Helen Suzman and Colin Elgin.  The PFP opposed apartheid policies in the white’s only parliament of the day, as did the earlier Liberal Party – although the Liberal Party took a decision to disband after the government passed a law disallowing parties from having a multiracial membership and it was not a predecessor of the PFP.  (although I am not sure if the SA Liberal Party actually ever had any MPs - someone may enlighten me...)

Of course, even earlier, the South African Labour Party under the leadership of Alex Hepple, who was an MP in the late 40s and 50s, also spoke out in Parliament against apartheid but failing to win significant white support closed down in the 1950s (and was also not in any sense a predecessor of the PFP).

The fact is that, while there were brave voices who used the white parliament to oppose apartheid, including Helen Suzman, these white voices were most solitary, and attempts to organise across colour lines and to make common cause with organisations like the ANC were mostly doomed. 

It was the fate of many white people and organisations that opposed apartheid to be harassed, imprisoned, banned or driven into exile.  On the liberal side - Peter Brown, of the Liberal Party, was detained for 98 days after the Sharpeville massacre and in 1964 was banned for 5 years under the Suppression of Communism Act.

Peaceful opposition to apartheid did not work and did not bring about the changes desired by the majority of people.  It was this realisation by the PAC and ANC in the late 50s and early 60s that led to the formation of the PAC’s military wing Poqo in 1960, the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto weSizwe in 1961, and Mandela going to Algeria for military training.

Mandela’s words from his speech in the dock:

"At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force.

This conclusion was not easily arrived at. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle, and to form Umkhonto we Sizwe. We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the government had left us with no other choice. In the Manifesto of Umkhonto published on 16 December 1961 … we said:

'The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom.'”

The Progressive Federal Party was never banned and its members were not imprisoned or driven into exile.  Nor did the PFP align itself with the struggle as defined by Mandela.  While some of its members may have spoken out against aspects of apartheid, it was not involved in the broad sweep of extra-parliamentary struggle against apartheid, nor in the worldwide opposition to the South African regime, which was led by the ANC in exile and numerous banned underground organisations, trade unions and civic organisations inside South Africa.

This is not to minimise the significance of Helen Zille writing with Allistair Sparks about the death in detention of Steve Biko, or her membership of the Black Sash, or the individual efforts of a few other current DA members.

And it is important, now, that the DA plays its role as a leading opposition political party in a free and democratic South Africa.  As the realignment of opposition political formations continues, it may well be that the DA is able to make common cause with others, move beyond its white leadership and support base, and create new formations that will one day allow it to contest realistically for political leadership in this country on the basis of winning mass support.  It is worth recalling the worlds of Aime Cesaire:

“For it is not true that the work of man is finished,
That we have nothing more to do in the world,
That we are just parasites in this world,
That it is enough for us to walk in step with the world,
For the work of man is only just beginning and it remains to conquer all,
The violence entrenched in the recess of his passion,
And no race holds a monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of strength, and,
There is a place for all at the Rendezvous of Victory.”

And so let us not pretend when it comes to South African history.  The struggle involved killings, torture, detentions, bannings, exile, military training in camps in the frontline states, parcel bombs, cross-border raids by the SADF, proxy wars fought in Mozambique and Angola, international sanctions and boycotts, and much more.  It was an armed struggle that required solidarity.  The DA’s predecessors in parliament were at best minor irritants to the apartheid government and were not involved.  So be it.  And now let us move forward, recognising that there is a place for all.